An UnCruise Adventure Aboard the Wilderness Legacy

by CruiseCompete CEO Bob Levinstein

Having returned in late May from a 7-night Alaska cruise, Juneau to Sitka, on the UnCruise Adventures Wilderness Legacy, it’s my task to communicate that experience. I’ll start with a few comparisons:

It was like a river cruise: a small ship on the calm waters of the Inside Passage in Southeast Alaska, with land in sight on both sides of the ship at all times. It was unlike a river cruise in that those waters were teeming with wildlife—whales and porpoises breaching; curious harbor seals, sea lions, and sea and river otters poking their heads out of the water to observe our passing.

Kayaking in Alaska, off the UnCruise Wilderness Legacy, credit Bob Levinstein

It was like a high-end guided camping trip: excursions via kayak, motorized skiff, or on foot. We had options to hike through easy and/or rough terrain, with experienced guides bringing context and meaning to life cycles of the plants and animals surrounding us or simply allowing time to enjoy the cathedral-like beauty of a primeval forest, a waterfall, or a 160-foot wall of glacial ice. It was unlike a camping trip in that instead of tents we experienced well-appointed rooms with hot showers and soft beds; 5-star service and cuisine; and even hot-tubs on the top deck where we could enjoy the warmth as we watched the red alpenglow on the mountain peaks slowly sliding by.

It was like an ocean cruise because we needed to unpack only once, we still awoke to a new landscape each day. It was unlike an ocean cruise in that there were no port stops per se–as each time we dropped anchor we were still somewhere in the pristine Alaskan wilderness. Further, the ship itself was not the center of entertainment, but rather a place to eat and rest and share stories of the day, as well as get to hear about the lives and travel experiences of a small group of interesting, well-traveled passengers and crew who really had a chance to get to know each other.

The Ship.

Overall. The Wilderness Legacy is the largest ship in the UnCruise Adventures eight-ship fleet, though with just an 85 passenger capacity, it is a very intimate experience. The ship was built in 1985 for inland waterway voyages and is in no way showing its age. The Legacy was designed with a style that evokes earlier days of riverboat sailings with brass and wood fittings and other quaint touches. UnCruise has added photos and other memorabilia related to old-time Alaska exploration and life. The overall result is beautiful without being ostentatious or overdone.

While easy to take for granted, the thought that went into the decor of the ship was a perfect was to set the mood for exploring and appreciating an area that has not changed appreciably since it was first discovered by man.

My cabin on UnCruise Wilderness Legacy, credit Bob Levinstein

Cabin. My cabin was on the second deck, conveniently located a few steps from the lounge. Of course, on a ship of this size there really isn’t such a thing as an inconvenient location. The cabin featured two single beds, one along each wall. Though the beds were narrow, I found them to be very comfortable. There is plenty of storage space in drawers, under beds, and in an armoire. This last came equipped with robes for the hot tubs, as well as a safe, and a high-quality pair of binoculars for viewing wildlife. A small desk with a chair completed the room’s furniture. A small TV/DVD player combination was on a swivel mount above the desk, easily viewable from either bed. The clock radio included a Bluetooth option to play music, and a window provided views of the passing sea and landscapes. The loudspeaker system was on the wall for announcements and included a control to turn off the volume, which could be overridden from the bridge for emergencies. The room itself seemed to be very soundproof, as I was never aware of any noise from adjoining cabins.

The bathroom, though small, is well appointed. The shower includes dispensers with shampoo, conditioner, and soap, and there is also a soap dispenser next to the sink. Hooks and shelves provided plenty of space for my gear, though with two people sharing a cabin it would require a bit more organization than I had to employ.

One oddity is that while the cabin door can be locked from the inside while in the room, passengers are not provided keys to lock it from the outside. I found it very freeing to not have to worry about carrying a key or an ID card or wallet or anything of the kind while onboard. As all food and drink are included, the only time I needed my wallet during the entire voyage was to put tips for the crew on my credit card.

Lounge and Dining. The two main common areas of the ship are the lounge at the bow of the ship on the second deck, and the dining room at the stern, down at the water line. The lounge is a large, carpeted room with windows on three sides; a small but beautifully ornate bar; comfortable lounge chairs with cocktail tables; small dining tables; and doors leading to the open bow deck. Board games and books are provided to enjoy in the lounge, and a library of classic DVD’s is available to view on the small tv in your cabin. The room’s feel is akin to that of an old-time British explorers’ club, and it fit perfectly with the overall aesthetic.

The spacious dining room has plenty of tables and booths to accommodate all passengers, with windows on all sides looking out onto the scenery. Tucked in behind it is a small room known as the “Pesky Barnacle.”  While its original purpose appears to be as a small bar/card room, it’s now used as a staging area for excursion groups to get ready to leave the ship and board kayaks or skiffs.

Top Deck. The top deck of the ship wasn’t used very often by most of the passengers, but it was one of my favorite places onboard. There is something very decadent about sitting in a hot tub at 9:30 at night with a drink in hand and music on a Bluetooth speaker, watching the red alpenglow on the mountain peaks at they slid by. The deck was also the location for a pizza happy hour, where one night the chef broke out a propane-fired pizza oven, and served fresh-made gourmet pizzas as guests drank incredibly smooth hot toddies served from a coffee dispenser.

Another part of this deck housed the ship’s work-out equipment: a few pieces of aerobic equipment (bike, elliptical machines, treadmills), adjustable dumbbells with a bench, and yoga mats. It’s more for the crew than the passengers, as we got plenty of exercise hiking and kayaking.

The Bridge on UnCruise Wilderness Legacy, credit Bob Levinstein

The Bridge. Unlike on a large cruise ship, the bridge is open to passengers pretty much all the time, with the “bridge closed” sign posted only when getting underway or when maneuvering through narrow straights. Having gotten to know Alex, the second mate, when she was my kayak partner on an excursion, I popped in to visit her during her evening shift. Though the sun was down, it was still light, so she was alone on the bridge. (A deckhand joins when it’s fully dark out) and she gave me the full tour of how courses are plotted and the redundant technology that keeps the ship sailing true.

A screen showed a ship due to collide with us in 17 minutes at current courses and speeds. A few clicks identified it as the local ferry, which Alex knew would make a turn long before it reached it us, and we watched as it did so on the screen. I was very impressed the concentration and discipline required to steer the ship: while the bridge officer doesn’t have a lot to do to keep the ship on course, he or she still has to remain alert for hours at a stretch, just in case something does go wrong like another boat straying into the ship’s path. In a room dimly lit to make it easy to see outside, it’s a huge responsibility with millions of dollars of property and dozens of lives to care for.

The People.

Dan Blanchard. The soul of UnCruise Adventures is the soul of founder and CEO Dan Blanchard. His passions for sharing his love for nature and Alaska flows through every crew member and is evident is every one of the tens of thousands of decisions, small and large, that go into the operations of an eight-vessel cruise line. Looking fit and much younger than his 60-something years, 40+ of which have been spent in Alaska, no one was more excited to see whales breaching than Dan, though it’s a spectacle he’s seen more times than he can count.

Capt Dan Blanchard, Wilderness Legacy in background, credit Bob Levinstein

I first met Dan in person for a walking tour of Juneau before boarding the ship. We were all prepared for the drizzle in our rain gear, and I was very comfortable despite the weather. UnCruise emphasizes the concept of “no bad weather, just bad gear” and taking that to heart paid off.

It was obvious from the first meeting that Dan loves his adopted home state. Not ten steps into the tour he stopped to pick up a piece of a wet plastic bag out of the gutter, and walked it over to a dumpster without losing the flow of his narration.

Juneau has a fascinating history, made all the more compelling with Dan’s expert story-telling. While I have no doubt he’s given the same tour more times than he can count, everything felt fresh and from the heart.

The story of Juneau begins as the story of hard-rock gold mines. Right across the street, hidden between buildings and easy to walk right by and never notice, was a locked mine entrance. As Dan related, this was part of a network of 742 miles of tunnels, including one stretch below a mountain that is 80 feet high and the length of two football fields. So much rock was removed that the current wharf area is actually built on the tailings from the mines.

While founded as a white mining settlement in the latter half of the 19th century, the town quickly became very diverse as Japanese and Filipinos came to work in the mines, and natives moved close by to participate in commerce. Despite this isolated town having just 32,000 residents compared to about 400,000 in the Anchorage metro, it remains the state capital because, as Dan succinctly puts it: “We were here first.”  That odd combination of a small town where “everyone knows everyone else’s business” and the political capital of a state makes for some amusing insider stories, and of course Dan knows them all. We learned about the struggles of local businesses, and Dan’s vicarious pleasure and pride in the success of young Alaskan entrepreneurs was contagious.

It’s Dan’s custom to greet passengers before each Alaska trip. On this sailing, the first from Juneau after a 19-month pause due to COVID, we had the pleasure of his company for the entire trip.

The Crew. Most of the crew is in their 20s’ and 30’s, it was clear that everyone was on board because they love what they do. While there was a division of labor between the excursion guides and ship’s crew, many of the crew had previously worked as guides, and often accompanied excursions. Similarly, guides had some duties aboard ship.

The guides were all well qualified, and paid close attention to all of the watercraft and wilderness safety rules—bear spray was always close at hand on land. But many were distinctly overqualified, with a great deal of knowledge and experience to share. Suzie had studied seals and sea lions and been on research expeditions both in the Arctic Circle and in Antarctica. Tyler was an expert on the local bird life. Bobby had an encyclopedic knowledge of lichens, mosses, and fungi, as well as a poet’s ability to communicate his love and fascination with all that we saw around us, and that was infectious.

Overall service was beyond excellent. At the first dinner, our waiter (Jesus) asked me if I had any food allergies, and I mentioned that I had a mild allergy to almonds. Days later, a different server made sure to point out that a dipping sauce had almonds in it and warn me away from it. Another day, when the happy-hour snack was brownies studded with almond chunks, the pastry chef made sure to make cookies without almonds and stash them behind the bar just for me. This type of extra effort was reflected all of the crew, and it made passengers feel very welcome and valued.

The Passengers. The passengers were older than I had expected, most in their 50’s-70’s with only a handful who were younger. Physical fitness levels varied, but I passengers were well above average for their age groups. More passengers seemed to be from Colorado than anywhere else, with Michigan and other Midwestern states well-represented. Most were affluent and well-traveled with interesting travel stories to share, and the group as a whole did not tend to be big-ship cruisers. While there did seem to be interest in river cruising, other types of travel seemed to be the preferred modes of vacationing. Overall it was a fun and interesting group to travel with.

A day on board the UnCruise Adventures Wilderness Legacy:

While there some variations, the schedule onboard was similar each day:

6:30: Early riser breakfast in the lounge (coffee, juice and pastries).
7:00: Morning stretch on the upper deck.
7:30: Full breakfast in the dining room.
8:30-12:30: Excursions off-boat.
12:30: Lunch
1:30-5:00: Excursions off-boat
5:30: Cocktail hour and snacks in the lounge
6:30: Dinner
7:30. News “hour” in the lounge (usually 20-30 minutes).
8:00 Lectures in the lounge (some nights)
Lounge open all day until 11:00 for drinks.

The Excursions.

UnCruise Adventures is all about experiencing nature and wildlife with expert guides to help you understand and appreciate what you’re seeing on land and in the water, all while keeping you safe in a truly wild environment. Excursions options are explained the night before during “News Hour” in the lounge, when passengers make their choices and sign up for the next day. More days passengers can choose two activities—one in the morning and one for the afternoon that are generally 1-3 hours in duration, or an all-day trip that can last up to eight hours. Or, if you just want to relax, a half- or full-day on board is always a legitimate option.

People are assigned to small-group tours based on preferences and also on physical ability, or even based on how you tell them you think you’ll be feeling the next day. Tours usually consist of 6-12 passengers with 1-3 guides, with tour start times posted outside the lounge in the evenings.

Almost all excursions with walking down steps onto the “Sea Dragon”. This custom-built platform/boat that was dragged behind the ship, and allows easy boarding of kayaks and skiffs.

Kayaking. I had always disliked kayaking, and approached my first UnCruise kayak excursions with some trepidation. I worried about comfort when sitting for long periods; about flipping over; in how hard it might be to steer the boat (especially a two-person kayak with people not used to working together); and how muscles unused to the task of paddling would likely get very sore very quickly. I was in for a pleasant surprise on all counts.

UnCruise deals with the first three issues by employing very stable Necky-brand two-person sea kayaks with comfortable seats and an ingenious rudder system. The rudder is very simple to use. Two pedals in the rear compartment make for very easy steering—press right to go right and left to go left.

Though I’ve paddled kayaks at lakes at least a half-dozen or more times over the years, it wasn’t until I was onboard the Legacy that I realized no one had ever taught me the correct form for paddling. It’s not hard to learn, and without going into too much detail, the keys are to push the paddle as much as pulling; use smooth easy strokes; and use the larger muscles of your core by twisting at the waist to avoid burning out the smaller muscles of the arms. While definitely still a work-out and some soreness is to be expected, I found the experience to be very enjoyable.

Each passenger is given a brief, onboard kayak tutorial the first morning onboard ship, and issued a tight-fitting kayak-specific life vest to use for the duration of the cruise. Getting in and out of the kayaks was never done in the water, but instead on the specially designed “Sea Dragon”, a boat/launch space that allows entry from a dry platform. Plenty of crew members are always on hand to help passengers get in and out.

The kayak excursions were fantastic, especially in the mornings when the water was often so calm as to be like glass. It’s fantastic so see wildlife from the deck of the ship, but it takes it to even another level to watch porpoises play from a seat at water level, and see the cute round faces of curious harbor seals and sea otters as they investigate your presence. Photo opportunities abounded. While most kayak excursions were small groups with guides, there were a few opportunities for “open paddles” that allowed people to explore within a reasonable range of the ship. One-person kayaks were available for these.

Lamplugh Glacier
Lamplugh Glacier, credit Bob Levinstein

A highlight of the kayak experience was a visit to Lamplugh Glacier, a sixteen-mile-long river of ice in Glacier Bay National Park terminating in Johns Hopkins Bay. Paddling silently by waterfalls cascading ten stories or more down rock walls, past floating chunks of ice the size of refrigerators, all to view a wall of ice towering 160 feet high is not to be missed. Especially when that silence is punctuated by the thunderous sound of icebergs calving in front of your eyes, or echoing from Johns Hopkins Glacier, 12 miles away over the mountains that ring the inlet.

Skiff tours. Skiff tours were the motorized version of kayak tours. Rigid inflatable skiffs accommodate up to a dozen passengers, and can cover a lot more ground than kayaks. Skiffs can be beached to allow passengers to disembark and explore the shoreline, and are the main means to ferry guests to and from bushwhacks and shore walks.

Bushwhacking. While a term for an ambush in old-time cowboy movies, a bushwhack on UnCruise is exactly what it sounds like: a hike through uncleared terrain on game trails at best and pushing your way through bushes as the branches spring back and whack you at worst. Undertaken in calf-high rubber boots (supplied by the ship and very effective at keeping your feet dry; see the Gear section), balance, flexibility and some level of physical fitness are required.

The rewards, though, are many. Besides the workout, the temperate rain forests of Southeast Alaska hold a wonderland of natural vistas and beautiful plants in varied environments. In some areas, moss under tree canopies covers fallen logs, branches and rock in a fairy-tale green carpet. In others, the high annual snowfall/rainfall combined with a relative lack of decomposers, result in unique bogs called “muskeg” (from Cree maskek and Ojibwe mashkiig, meaning “grassy bog”). This spongy wet soil becomes toxic to trees and large plants, resulting in areas open to the sky with reflective pools of standing water.

Shore walks. Shore walks, sometimes combined with “forest pokes”, are the easier of the hiking options. Passenger explore the inter-tidal zones, teeming with life. Sea cucumbers, sea stars, mussels, and a wide array of plant life are easy to find and examine. Short “pokes” into the dense forest above the shoreline gives passengers who may not be interested in the extremes of bushwhacking a chance to see and experience that environment as well.

Starfish in hand, found on shore walk, credit Bob Levinstein

Bartlett Cove. Outside of Juneau where we started the cruise and Sitka where we finished, Barlett Cove in Glacier Bay was the only stop where the ship actually docked, and we to get to shore via the ship’s gang plank. Hikes were on nicely tended trails, making this the only time we used our hiking boots rather than the rubber calf-high boots. Sneakers would have been adequate here if you’re thinking about bringing either sneakers or boots and not both.

Right whale skeleton in Alaska, credit Bob Levinstein

The preserved and mounted skeleton of right whale is on display in the park, and it is impressive at more than 45.5 feet in length.  It’s from a whale who was nicknamed “Snow” for the white markings on her flukes. She frequented the waters around Glacier Bay for about 25 years before she was sadly injured in a collision with a ship.  A 20-foot cedar totem pole carved by Huna Tlingit tribal elders, authentic dugout canoes, and a beautiful tribal mural are also on display.

The Wildlife.

Anytime you seek to view wildlife in its natural habitat, you are at the mercy of the animals deciding whether or not to make an appearance. In Southeast Alaska, wildlife is so abundant that the risk of not seeing much is very low. The wildlife viewing on this trip was far beyond anything I could have imagined.

Brown bears in Alaska
Brown bear on the shore line, photo courtesy UnCruise Adventures

Black and white Dalls porpoises, looking like miniature orcas playing in the bow wave of the Legacy. Smaller harbor porpoises and harbor seals swimming near our kayaks, curious about us visitors to their home. A half-dozen mountain goats grazing contentedly as we cruised past Gloomy Knob. Humpback whales blowing and even breaching near the ship, drawing passengers from their dinners to watch. Bald eagles, Arctic puffins, sea birds, and huge ravens. A female moose swimming to an island and disappearing into the forest. Porcupines by the side of the trail. A mother sea otter holding hands (paws?) with her pup as they drifted along the current. A pair of river otters noisily making more river otters as passed in our kayaks. Brown bears visible through binoculars on distant shorelines. A hundred or more sea lions dozing, squabbling and diving off cliffs into the water as watched from the bow of the ship, anchored off of South Marble Island.

I can’t speak to whether or not all of these sights were typical for a cruise through these waters, but with such abundant life, I can’t imagine a trip being disappointing to any animal lover.

Lectures. Our guides had a chance to show off their expertise via lectures delivered in the lounge after dinner. There were three on our trip. One was about Alaska bird life; one on seals and sea lions; and a third about Alaska history. Each lasted about 45 minutes. All were well-organized, entertaining, and informative.

Polar Plunge. The polar plunge is exactly what it sounds like: passengers and crew can volunteer to don bathing suits and leap from the second deck into the near-freezing sea water. While it is up to the individual to whether he or she wants to undertake this insanity, it’s really more of a group bonding activity that you do for others more than for yourself. A skiff with a crew-member taking pictures and another available in the unlikely event that a rescue is needed floats close by. Life vests were available, but no one chose to wear them.

Our cruise was only the second sailing in 19 months post-COVID, and I was told that, for some reason the first sailing did not feature a polar plunge, so there was a great deal of enthusiasm among the crew. About 20 people, roughly divided between passengers and crew leaped into the water, cheered on by more of the people on the ship.

Polar plunge off UnCruise Wilderness Legacy
Polar plunge off UnCruise Wilderness Legacy, credit Bob Levinstein

If you’ve never done a polar plunge, I can’t really recommend it. You will immediately feel a sensation of shock as your body temperature plummets on impact, robbing muscles of a good portion of their function. Swimming is thus difficult, and even the half-dozen yards to the ladder was somewhat challenging. Fortunately the bottom rung of the ladder was under water, as I can tell you from experience that lifting your body-weight out of freezing water is significantly more difficult than from warm water. But again, it’s not really about having an enjoyable experience, it’s more about entertaining your compatriots and being able to say that you did it.

Crew members with large, soft towels greeted us as we exited the water, immediately followed by a cart with hot coffee that we could doctor with Bailey’s Irish Cream, and hot chocolate, ready to be spiked with peppermint schnapps. Hot showers and the hot tub were popular immediately thereafter. Tour leader Skeba was there to hand out laminated certificates certifying and enshrining our lack of judgment.

Gear. One of my many flaws is that I tend to obsess over what to pack for any trip, especially as I generally do not check luggage. (I will freely admit to taking advantage of the loophole that airlines regard even very large backpacks as “small personal items” however.). Despite my worries, packing for an UnCruise Alaska trip is very, very simple.

Outerwear. You need a good rain jacket and water-proof and/or quick-dry hiking pants. I ordered a number of different sizes and styles via Amazon, and returned whatever didn’t fit or that I didn’t like. I ended up with two pairs of hiking pants ($26-$38): one pair of quick-dry, light-weight pants for warmer days, one more heavy-duty, Gore-Tex-like, water-proof pair for colder days and kayaking. Similarly, I bought two rain jackets ($30 each). One was a light wind-breaker, and the other a heavier shell. If you’re a person who doesn’t overheat easily, you will be fine with just the heavier gear. All of my choices ended up being off-brands, and I was very happy with both the quality and price of everything I selected. Thin but waterproof gloves (dry hands while kayaking), a winter hat, and a baseball cap (to keep rain off of your face) all came in handy for me. One quick thought: order hiking pants a waist size larger than what you normally wear, as you will probably want to wear layers underneath, and the extra room in the backside gives you more space for bend while stepping over trees or on steep climbs.

Base Layers. When you take an excursion that includes both riding in a motorized skiff in the wind and the rain, and hiking up to the top of a 400-foot peak through tough terrain, it is impossible to dress once for the weather. I was frequently too cold while wearing 4 layers on top plus a tight-fitting life vest and 2 on the bottom plus winter hat and gloves, and too warm in shirt sleeves on the same excursion. T-shirts, long-sleeve t-shirts, sweat-shirts, and hoodies are all recommended. If this gear can be designed for athletics and outdoors, all the better. Long underwear or, as I prefer, thermal running tights are also useful. The good thing here is that only the layers close to your skin really have a limit to how many times they can be worn before they start to stink, and these take up very little room in your suitcase.

Footwear. You will end up wearing calf-high rubber boots on just about all of your excursions, and they have plenty available on-board the ship. I was able to find a pair perfect for my wide, hard-to-fit feet without any problem. I would not recommend buying any (they run $60-$200 a pair), and they take up a great deal of space in your luggage.

Onboard I wore slip-on boat shoes (think Docksides or Topsiders) most of the time, and I found these to be very practical. I brought both hiking boots and running shoes, neither of which saw a lot of use on this cruise. I would suggest either running shoes (if you plan to work out in the small gym onboard or at your hotels), or just hiking boots if not. Thick hiking socks (I recommend Smartwool brand—expensive but worth it) and thin lounge socks are also useful (I wore these with my deck shoes when it was colder).

Other clothing. Here’s one of the great things about UnCruise: no one dresses up for anything. A pair of jeans and/or a pair of sweats is all you need in the lounge or at dinner, and t-shirts and base layers are pretty much all anyone wears. Add a swim suit for the hot-tubs and the polar plunge and that’s about it.

Miscellaneous. A light-weight daypack that’s at least a little bit water resistant is useful. You don’t need anything fancy. I take a $25 Neekfox backpack on all of my travels–it packs down to nothing, it’s incredibly convenient even for things like shopping, and it is very comfortable. You will mostly use it to stow the layers of clothing you’re not wearing at the moment. Gallon-sized zip-lock bags to hold/prevent wet stuff are always good to have on hand. Sunglasses and a small tube of sunscreen (get your face before kayaking). A camera with a serious zoom lens if you want to photograph wildlife, or just your phone is more than sufficient to take great pictures of people and scenery. Headphones, charging plugs, and mobile chargers (batteries). Cabins have Bluetooth speakers integrated into the clock radios, but I was happy that I brought mine to use in the hot-tub—and to blast the song “Lunatic Fringe” during the polar plunge. Make sure to download music onto your phone, though, as you will not have connectivity for much if not most of the trip.

Food and Drink. The fare onboard the ship is nothing short of fantastic.

Delicious food aboard UnCruise Wilderness Legacy
Delicious food aboard UnCruise Wilderness Legacy, credit Bob Levinstein

The early breakfast, served in the lounge from 6:30AM-7:30AM for early risers and those still functioning on different time zones, featured sumptuous baked goods made by Tanya, the pastry chef. It would be hard to overstate how big a hit her desserts were—as beautiful to look at they were wonderful to eat—and how much she was appreciated by the passengers. People were very nervous when she took the polar plunge, and I heard more than one person saying that if the ship went down, she was the first person they would try to save.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner were all served in the dining room, where each table and booth accommodated six diners. While it was open seating and passengers could sit wherever and with whomever they liked, the same servers always worked the same tables.

There were no printed menus. Most meals offered three entree options, including one for vegetarians. Lunch and dinner had entree salad choices as well. The chef was open to preparing off-menu selections upon request or removing ingredients, and selecting two entrees or doubling up on the meat in one entree was encouraged.

The main ingredients varied, and included a lot of fresh local fish, as well as smoked pork tenderloin, Dungeness crab, lamb lollipops and beef tenderloin. The cuisine styles also changed meal to meal, from New Orleans po’boys to South American arepas to Hawaiian poke bowls to good old American cheeseburgers and grilled cheese, and all was sumptuous. As much thought went into the presentation of the meals, and each new course was worth admiring before digging in.

As with everything else onboard, drinks were included and available pretty much all day. Servers were happy to run up to the bar from the dining room for mixed drinks. A very nice wine selection was provided, with specific pairings recommended for dinner. The Sangiovese, pinot noir, and a very delicate rose were my favorites throughout the week, though I did enjoy the chardonnay as well. There were about 6 local beer options that passengers seemed to like. The spirit selection was eclectic and featured mostly higher-end brands.

As with many on board, the bartender, Bronson, was massively overqualified for his job. Not simply content to follow recipes, he spent his time between mixing drinks making custom “shrubs”: combinations of fruit, sugar, and vinegar that are left to mature over a several day period. I watched him spend half an hour with a passenger to tailor a Bloody Mary recipe based on her continued tasting and feedback, and then store a quart of it in the fridge especially for her for the rest of the cruise. When guiding passengers to a new cocktail to suit their taste, questions like “Do you want a more alcohol-forward experience” helped people discover exactly what they liked. And as all great bartenders must, he was a super nice guy and solid conversationalist. If Tanya would have been the first person to be saved in the event of the ship going down, then Bronson would surely have been the second.

Post-Cruise: Sitka. Even after the cruise had ended, the commitment UnCruise has to its passengers continued. One of the top attractions in Sitka is called “Fortress of the Bear”, a rehabilitation center for abandoned black and brown bear cubs. A visit was highly recommended to us by the crew on board, but the FoB website showed no viewing appointments available due to COVID restrictions. The crew not only managed to arrange a tour, but also arranged a charter bus on short notice to take us the 10+ mile round trip for just $10, a far better deal than taxis would have been.

Fortress of the Bear, credit Bob Levinstein

Fortress of the Bear has a fascinating story. Bear cubs—whether orphaned by hunters, car accidents, natural deaths or simply separated from their mothers—face a cruel fate. Unable to feed themselves, they either starve to death or are humanely euthanized. While in many states, these cubs are rescued, raised and released to the wild with a good chance of survival, Alaska had no such program.

Les and Evy Kinnear wanted to change that. They set their sights on an old pulp mill in Sitka, an abandoned facility which had been closed for many years. Originally designed to hold huge quantities of wood pulp, two enormous circular open-topped enclosures with 17-foot-high concrete walls remain: perfect habitat for raising bears.

Les himself told us the story of the center as we watched three black and five brown bears feed, play and swim. Years of government red-tape have slowly been overcome as the facility has grown. The center is still not allowed to release grown bears into the wild, as they are required to prove they can raise a generation of healthy animals, but it’s an unforgettable experience to see these beautiful animals up close.


A cruise through southeast Alaska with UnCruise Adventures on the Wilderness Legacy is an unforgettable experience. If you love animals and nature, and enjoy experiencing the outdoors in an active manner, it is definitely for you. You will see amazing sites, enjoy the peace of the wilderness, get plenty of exercise, feel welcomed and embraced by the crew, and enjoy top quality food and service. I highly recommend it.

Wilderness Legacy in a beautiful Alaska setting, credit Bob Levinstein

Cover photo: UnCruise Legacy Alaska June 2021, photo by Bob Levinstein; Whale tail, credit UnCruise

Photos courtesy of Bob Levinstein, except whale tail on cover and bear on shore line courtesy UnCruise Adventures. See Bob’s portfolio here and feel free to use photos with credit to Bob Levinstein



See more about UnCruise Adventures:

On CruiseCompete, see UnCruise Wilderness Legacy sailings here, plus all UnCruise sailings here

On All Things Cruise: see more about UnCruise Adventures here

On our podcasts, see interview with Captain Dan Blanchard, CEO, owner and founder of UnCruise Adventures here

8 thoughts on “An UnCruise Adventure Aboard the Wilderness Legacy”

  1. Excellent description of our cruise! Happy to have shared the time with you on the SS Legacy! This was an “experience” as apposed to a vacation trip. Your words filled my heart and mind with memories of this week in May!

  2. We were on the Legacy right after you disembarked. Your review is spot on! I hope to Uncruise again. It was a SPECTACULAR experience.

  3. In September we’re cruising Glacier Bay, Juneau to Juneau, on Explorer and can only assume that our adventure will mirror yours, for the most part.

    Thanks for the well-written review of your cruise.

  4. I have been on Un-Cruise adventure tours several times on different vessels and I love them. He definitely told the story of any cruise they have. I am looking forward to making another cruise.


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